Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"The Velvet Underground" - Squeeze

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I take an almost perverse delight in declaring albums that critics and the public have written off as garbage to be "lost classics" or at least more worthwhile than is usually assumed. So you might expect me to declare Squeeze, the 1973 album by the Lou Reed-less, Doug Yule-led Velvet Underground, to be a minor masterpiece. Not this time. Squeeze is not a lost masterpiece. It's the kind of garbage that deserves to be forgotten, only it can't quite be because it turns up in the discography of one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. It's a putrid footnote to an otherwise nearly flawless band's career.

Apparently some believe Squeeze deserves a second listen (from Wikipedia):
Due to perceived middle of the road content, Squeeze is sometimes dismissed out of hand by Velvet Underground fans. However, with the advent of Internet audio file sharing, the previously obscure record has gained some supporters, who speculate that Squeeze might have fared far better if it had been promoted not as a V.U. album, but as Yule's solo debut, with some arguing that some of the songs would not have been out of place on Loaded.

First of all, I would point out that Squeeze was not promoted as a Doug Yule solo album, it was promoted--in the most exploitative manner imaginable (with cover art and type script that recalled Loaded no less)--as a Velvet Underground album. There is a very good reason for this: no one was interested in a freakin' Doug Yule solo album. Doug Yule could not have gotten a record deal, even in the UK, if he had opted to release this under the name "The Doug Yule Experience." Yule and sleazeball Velvet's manager Steve Sesnick decided to "squeeze" a few extra bucks out of the Velvet Underground name by foisting a fraud onto the public. The fact that Sesnick was the driving force behind this (and the guy who made off with the advance money) does not absolve Yule of his share of the blame. This is not the same thing as Arthur Lee releasing sub-par "Love" records with himself as the only original member. (A better comparison would be if Frank Fayad or Noony Rickett tried to release a "Love" album.) Lee had both the legal and moral authority to release anything he wanted under the Love moniker. Yule and Sesnick had the legal right to do whatever they wanted with the Velvet's name, and what they chose to do was sleazy and dishonest.

But for the sake of argument, let's pretend that we can set aside the inherently insulting nature of a Velvet Underground album with no original Velvets playing on it (we can't, but let's pretend). Would this album have fared better with critics if it had been released as a Doug Yule solo album? Perhaps, but it wouldn't make the music on the album any better, and for the most part the music really stinks. Lou Reed made good use of Doug Yule's soulless choirboy voice on the last two Velvets albums, but while the voice here is familiar, the material lacks the startling tension between Reed's razor sharp lyrics and the blandness of Yule's delivery. Hearing Yule sing "Candy says, I've come to hate my body, and all that it requires in this world" was chilling, but hearing him sing "Everybody knows you used to dance the hoochie-coo, just can't shake it like you used to do" (as he does on "Louise") is literally painful.

I will grant you, the best of the songs on the album ("Friends," "She'll Make You Cry," "Caroline") might not have sounded entirely out of place on Loaded, but they certainly would have stood out as the worst track on that album. And the rest of the songs ("Louise," "Little Jack," "Crash," "Dopey Joe," etc.) would have been unlikely to make the cut on a Mr. Mister album. The majority of the material is just plain bad.

"Caroline" is one of the few tolerable songs on the album, and has the most direct link to the sound of the classic band. Even so, the track is borderline insulting with it's Lou Reed-like backing vocals (possibly provided by Deep Purple's Ian Paice) and Lou Reed-lite hipster lyrics. "Louise" on the other hand is an outright travesty, and more typical of the poor quality of the material contained on the album.

Is this one of the worst albums ever made? No. But no amount of revisionist history can redeem it. Doug Yule and Steve Sesnick deserve to spend eternity in rock and roll hell (a place where you can only hear Pat Boone's version of "Tutti Frutti") for foisting such a monumental fraud on the public.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

You tell 'em, Pete!

Peter Hennig said...

Listening to the coda from Louise, this could have developed into a much more interesting musical approach for Yule.

Didn't happen.

Pete Bilderback said...

You know what Pete, you are right about the coda to "Louise" it has a kind of Left Banke, baroque quality to it that actually might have been a good direction for Yule to pursue. Of course by 1973 there wasn't much market for baroque rock.

Yule didn't do much after this album. Reed somehow forgave him and he played on the Sally Can't Dance LP and tour. He showed up in a minor super-group called American Flyer which was a lighter CSN meets the Eagles kind of thing. Then that was it for a long time. A live solo album came out a few years back, and of course the "Final V.U." boxed set documents the Yule led V.U. in concert.

After Loaded, Yule, Morrison and Tucker recorded a few demos for Atlantic (I think for "Friends," and "She'll Make You Cry" which are two of the better songs on Squeeze. It would be interesting to hear those.

It wouldn't have been so offensive to keep the V.U. going with Morrison and Tucker onboard. (Moe was technically still in the band just before Squeeze was recorded, but Sesnick sent her home from the U.K. and opted to record with Paice). I may have been a bit hard on Yule in this post, but it cannot be emphasized enough that Sesnick was a manipulative sleazeball.

In the notes to the Peel Slowly and See boxed set Reed says he regrets giving the lead vocals of "New Age" to Yule: "No slur on Doug, but he didn't understand the lyrics for a second." Ouch! Maybe he never forgave him afterall.

orangehairboy said...

Hey, Louise was pretty good, CODA and all! I thought it was a decent record, even if it shouldn't have been credited to the Velvet Underground. And Yule and Reed worked together after this album came out, including stuff on Sally Can't Dance and some of the bonus material around the time of Coney Island Baby, so Lou couldn't have been too mad with him.

Po said...

Great critique here! I hadn't thought of "Squeeze" in ages. Dredged up a lot of winces if not outright pain--- all mitigated by the pleasure of reading your razor-sharp prose! Keep it up!

13er said...

Hey, you are really cruel. "Squeeze" is good pop album and some songs are into classic VU too. "Jack and Jane" very into earlier hard VU and "Crash" reminds something from "Transformer" (although it is more into Beatles "Martha My Dear"). "Friends" is not worse than any Lou Reed ballad.

singintomymouth said...

i know this is an old article, but I just heard "Squeeze" for the first time and came across your blog...
I was truly expecting to hate this album, and only checked it out for interest, after hearing it referred to as "an embarrassment to the VU discography."
But I have to admit that I kind of like it - only after disassociating it with any other VU recordings I've heard. It brings to mind other 70's rock I've been checking out on vinyl: T-Rex, Big Star, maybe a bit of Bowie, and just a tiny bit of VU.
It would undoubtedly be easier to enjoy this album without the VU name attached to it, but with a little imagination, it's not so bad...

Anonymous said...

Of course the use of the Velvet's name was a fraud, though usual throughout the business, isn't it? I have to admit I still like this album. All of you who want to judge the book not only by its cover, for example go to http://ivorymusic.blogspot.com/. Enjoy! (Or don't.)

Anonymous said...

All you haters criticizing Yule and Sesnick for keeping the band going never seem to mention that Sterl and Moe went along with it as well. Lou Reed quit the band because he was a speed freak queen in the summer of 1970 and was about to entirely burn out. The rest of the band (including Sesnick, who Moe once described as the "fifth member") felt like they wanted to keep things going based on their own hard word, and the impending release of Loaded.

Pete Bilderback said...

Interesting that this post has continued to garner comments, thank you to all of those who have shared their thoughts, even those who disagree with me.

I just want to make a couple quick points: As I tried to make clear in my original post, my problem with Squeeze is not primarily that it was called a Velvet Undground album, but that it's not very good. Actually, that's being too kind: in my opinion, it's awful.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am very open to contrarian takes on albums that have been panned by critics. In fact, I revisited this album in hopes of writing a "defy the conventional wisdom" defense of it. But I couldn't write a post like that in good conscience. My honest opinion is that Squeeze is a terrible album without a single good song to recommend it. I'm happy to read that others hear it differently, as such differences are the spice of life that makes the world go round, etc., etc.

I would be able to forgive the exploitative element inherent in this project if Yule and Sesnick had delivered decent music, but they didn't. All evidence points to this being no more than a last ditch attempt to cash in on the good name of the Velvet Underground by Sesnick with an unfortunate assist from Yule.

As for Moe Tucker and Sterling Morrison, while they were open to carrying on the V.U. name without Lou, both were long gone by the time this steaming pile of crap was released and had nothing to do with it.

A Doug Yule-led V.U. with Moe and Sterl is one thing, but a V.U. with Doug Yule and the drummer from Deep Purple is, in my opinion, another matter entirely. Moe and Sterl's good names should not be dragged through the mud by implying they had any involvement with this project.

As for Doug Yule, it should be pointed out that whatever hard feelings this sad episode in the band's career may have engendered, Lou Reed eventually forgave him and they worked together on the Coney Island Baby sessions. Perhaps I was too harsh in damning Doug to rock and roll hell for Squeeze, a millennia or two in purgatory is probably a more just punishment.

Lou did not (to my knowledge) ever forgive Sesnick, although at least some of his beefs with his former manager were eventually redressed through legal action. A-Wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop-bam-boo.

Dana said...

I've had this on tape for a while, but came to your blog to get a digital copy. Sorry, but I have to admit that I'm kind of fond of this one too. Obviously it's not in the ballpark with the other VU stuff, but it's a pretty decent 70's rock album. I've always liked the guitar breaks on Little Jack especially.

Anonymous said...

According to Sterling Morrison, in an interview, "Friends" and another song, ("She'll Make You Cry" ?), were recorded by the him, Mo and Doug Velvet Underground lineup to get a new record contract. He said it got lost somewhere in the mail.

Also, after ''Squeeze'' was released, Mo rejoined the band with Doug to play some Velvet Underground shows.

Strelnikov said...

To Mr. Bilderback:
According to Wikipedia, Moe Tucker was still in the band, but it was "too expensive" (?) to let her drum. I don't buy that, but there does seem to be some sort of popular reevaluation of "Squeeze" on the internet because the album is available for download (and on YouTube if you avoid downloading.) I agree that it is a fraud of album; Yule would have never had a shot to make this as a Doug Yule record so they lied and called it a Velvet Underground record. In a weird way it reminds me of the 1969-1970 albums put out by The Monkees; they were contractully obligated to crank out X number of albums and they did it even though the band was down to two original players. But instead of album after album of diminishing returns we get this weird tie-in record that sounds nothing like the Velvet Underground and everything like the pop rock hits of 1968-1971.

Pete Bilderback said...

Hi Strelnikov,

You are right about Moe. I've done a little more research since writing this post long ago, and I was incorrect to say she was "long gone" in my previous comment. She was still technically a member of the V.U. at the time the album was made, and played with Yule again after the recording sessions when he returned to the U.S.

Apparently she made the trip the UK, but Sesnick sent her home before the recording. I think he probably thought Moe would be too difficult to deal with in the studio and wanted to get the album done quickly and with as little fuss as possible. As we have seen recently, Moe can have some pretty strong opinions!

Sorry for passing on bad information--there is enough of that on the internet without my help.

Thanks!

BB said...

Squeeze isn't that bad of an album if you approach it as a Doug Yule solo album (which it is). It sounds like typical 70's fare, ala Mott the Hoople, etc.

Elijah M said...

Yule talked about this in-depth in an interview in 1995 (here: http://goo.gl/Ss7ZO). It’s worth reading the whole thing.

“[Sesnick] whispers into one person’s ear ‘watch out for that person there, they’re not too good for you, you’re really good, and they’re not gonna help you and they’re out to get you anyway.’ He whispers into the other person’s ear the same thing. Basically everybody else got shipped back to the States (the album was recorded in England) and I was still there and he said ‘go do this and no, Maureen’s not gonna be part of this now.’ I was like ‘oh, ok.’ You gotta understand I was 23 years old and I had lead a very sheltered life, I was not very world-wise. And did not have any skills in terms of confrontation. It would have been easy to go to Maureen and say ‘Steve tells me I’m gonna do an album and your not gonna do it with me, why’s that?’ That would have been a perfectly logical thing for me to do, which I’d do now.

I would never even conceive if I was in a group now of doing an album without sitting down with the whole group and saying , ‘now we’re gonna do an album, what do you think about that?.’ Anyway it happened and I was very much caught up in my own hubris at the time, I so full of ‘Ok, here I am, I’m in England, I’m recording, I’m working with Ian Paice of Deep Purple.’ It was like the blind leading the blind, me leading myself. That’s what came out of it, I don’t even have a copy of it. But it’s kind of a nice memory for me and kind of an embarrassment at the same time. I wish I had my eyes wider open.”

Pete Bilderback said...

Thanks. That quote from Yule is helpful indeed. It very much matches my sense of things.